As some of you already know, The Boyfriend and I are moving this weekend, which means my kitchen(s) will be in shambles for the next few days and new recipes will be on hold. Thankfully, my lovely friend Molly, creator and author of Deadlifts & Discoveries, is here to save the day and keep you guys busy until I have something new to share. Until then, Happy 4th of July! Have a fantastic weekend, please be safe, please drink responsibly, and please please PLEASE DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE.
So lately I’ve had great success from tracking my food intake and keeping an eye on my macros. While I have no issues experimenting with my own body, I’m grateful to have someone else with a bit more experience to share her story and fill in the blanks.
I absolutely love Molly’s approach, even though it’s not 100% slow carb. Personally, I try to eat between 80-90% of my TDEE and aim for 1g of protein and 0.5g of fat per pound of bodyweight, you already know I’m shooting for as little sugar as possible, but I understand that isn’t the case for everyone and I’m not here to tell you what you’re doing is wrong (unless it’s really really wrong). Even though it’s not slow carb, I think it’s good to understand all facets of fitness and nutrition so you can make an educated decision. Let’s see what Molly has to say about that.
From Ms. Deadlifts & Discoveries herself:
“Hello from the Right Coast! Our lovely blogess here has asked me to do a guest post about calculating and tracking macros and calories for performance, for aesthetics, for whatever you like. I am not a registered, licensed, certified, professional, expert anything; just a girl with a passion for health and lifting, and a compulsive reading habit. I come from a very disordered eating background, but I did learn how to weigh, approximate, and track food early on. Not healthfully, but at least I was accurate.
I meticulously track everything I eat. Rather than punishing myself harshly anytime I went over my goal of zero calories (you read that right. I aimed for literally no food every single day from the age of 14 to 20), now I track to ensure that I’m getting the most out of every last one of the many calories I put in my body and making sure it’s enough to allow me to squat more than my bodyweight for reps, run a 5k, climb trees, haul 500lbs of bricks, summit a mountain with a full pack. I’m a 5’3″, 119lb girl and I eat more than the average adult male, and I lose fat and inches doing it. I attribute my high caloric needs solely to heavy lifting, as muscle burns calories just by existing. More muscle means more food. More food means I’m less likely to smother my boyfriend with a pillow when he starts snoring. Not to mention that I look and feel the best I ever have in my life, and a million times better than my 108lb high school foolishness.
Calculating and detailing my training and diet is one of my favorite pastimes, no joke. I’m a total data junkie, and love to analyze, compare, contrast, make graphs, note trends, integrate other data, and organize things.
All that said, I’m not incredibly obsessive about it. Nor do I need to be. I figure life is hard enough, why stress about it if 10g of carbs come from pretzels in hot sauce and not a sweet potato sometimes? Why freak out if my macro ratio ends up at 42% fats and not 45%? “Close enough” keeps me sane, as long as it truly is close enough. It’s a balance, a tightrope walk, to find that line between being effective and not driving yourself nuts.
So let’s get down to the part you care about. Macronutrients are basically what food is made of. They consist of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. I could get into how there’s 4 calories per gram of protein, 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, and 9 calories per gram of fat, but truthfully, that’s too technical for me. To me, ice cream and vodka are macros too (actually, alcohol sugars are technically a macro, but that’s another post entirely) and I budget them into my caloric bills.
If I were to apply the trendy terms to how I feed my body, I would be a primal intermittent fasting clean eater following 85/15 IIFYM HFLCish. What. In layman’s terms, I’m too lazy to get up to make breakfast, so I just have liquids until about 7pm (coffee, water, BCAAs for training, protein shake). I eat what I like, which is mostly meat, dairy, fresh produce, and nuts. Yup. I actually like foods as close to their natural state as possible. I focus on getting protein up early, followed by fats. Around midnight, I’ll have a few hundred calories left, so I’ll indulge in whatever I want, in the healthiest way I can. Usually. Sometimes it’s nachos (local organic grass-fed cheese, homemade salsa, beans, some kind of leafy green, some meat, organic hot sauce, avocado on regular tortilla chips), sometimes it’s a half pint of Ben & Jerry’s, sometimes it’s a PB&J on Ezekiel bread. This is what works for me. It won’t work for everyone, mentally or physically. The details of my diet aren’t particularly important, other than to illustrate that you don’t need to eat a bodybuilding contest prep diet of tilapia, chicken breast, and broccoli day in and day out, nor do you need to 1200 calories a day to get a fit body.
I’ve developed my own little nuances and found some tweaks that suited me better over the years, but Calorie Tracking 101 is pretty simple and all encompassing.
First, determine your caloric needs. There’s a million ways to do this; I prefer to use a combination of several online calculators, and two additional formulas specifically for athletes, then average them out to get a general idea (google “TDEE calculator”, try out a few and see what you get; I use the IIFYM and Scooby’s Workshop calculators primarily. Try them at the lowest activity option in the list as well as what you would estimate your level to be and average those four numbers and set the goal as maintenance where applicable. That number is the calories you burn in your everyday life, walking, eating, digesting, breathing, pooping, exercising, dancing while brushing your teeth, etc. If you eat that number for a few weeks, you’ll see how your body responds. If you gain weight, it’s too much. Lose weight, it’s too little. Adjust that number according to your goals: If you want to get big and strong, you’ll need to eat more than that number (350 calories more per day is the general starting point). If you want to lose fat, you’ll need to eat less (again, about 350 is a pretty good starting place). Note: don’t even think about “eating back calories burned”. You’ll only confuse yourself and end up back where you started. Keep it simple.
Next is macros. Again, a million ways to calculate this. Some people say 0.8g protein per kilogram of body weight, some say 2g per pound of bodyweight, some say you’ll have a heart attack if you go over 35g of fat… it’s pretty personal. Fats are a bit more important for women, especially those seeking low body fat, as they directly control hormonal response. I eat a minimum of 100g of fat per day and my recent bloodwork came back “perfect”. My LDL is lower than my HDL by a few points. My blood pressure is stable and “very acceptable,” according to my doctor. Fats aren’t the enemy. Protein is the necessary building block for muscle. If you’re trying to get big and strong, that’s what you need. If you’re trying to cut body fat while preserving muscle, you’ll want a lot of that. Carbohydrates provide energy. If you’re a runner, or a nurse on your feet all day, don’t be afraid to carb up. It’s a very personal ratio. If you have no idea where to start, try for a 33/33/33% split and play with it. Remember that it does take time to see changes, so be sure to stick with each variation for at least 3 weeks or so.
Once you’ve gotten the numbers you need, then you need to put them to work. I use the free app MyFitnessPal. While not dead accurate, it’s again, close enough. Note: the preset “goals” in the app are absolute BS; take the time to put in your own calorie/macro goals. Some people prefer pen and paper, or a different app. Whatever allows you to look at hard data. For the first few months, it’s easiest to slightly inconvenience yourself and weigh everything you eat. You’ll soon be able to estimate pretty accurately how much of a certain food is present, and about how many calories it is. But in the beginning, be as anal as you possibly can about it without driving yourself bonkers. Be honest about what you’ve eaten, don’t lie to the app and expect results, and accept that you’ll see red “you messed this up” notifications sometimes.
That’s it. Calculate, log, progress. Over time, you’ll learn to eat almost intuitively, realize your problem areas, and find alternative solutions. Experiment. You won’t do irreversible damage. What worked for that IFBB pro on Instagram won’t necessarily work for you, and what works for you won’t necessarily work for me. Be patient, but be honest and critical of your progress. You’ll learn what your body wants and needs, and when you should differentiate between the two.”
Here’s my proof. January 21, 2014 to today, one picture per month. In the first three, I weighed about 120lbs and was eating about 1700 calories a day. Somewhere shortly after the third picture, I bumped them up to 2200 and got very skinny very fast. In the fourth picture, I weighed 127lbs and was “dirty bulking” at 3000 calories a day! Picture number 5 is two weeks into a cut at 2200 again, and the last picture is today, at 119lbs and 2100 calories a day. My weight is almost identical in the first and last pictures, but what a difference!